I am a researcher in applied and socially engaged theatre, with expertise in theatre in prisons and at-risk communities, and in theatre in health education practices. My interdisciplinary research brings ecologies of applied theatre practice into critical correspondence with the fields of carceral geography, atmosphere studies and abolitionist theory, and draws on six years of practical experience as a member of the internationally renowned theatre company Clean Break, who work with women in prisons and women at risk.
My research also explores how theatre companies operate and flourish within the contemporary UK arts sector, including through embedded research with the producing companies Fuel and People’s Palace Projects.
Together with Gail Babb, I am Co-Director of the MA Applied Theatre: Drama in Educational, Community and Social Contexts.
- PhD, Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Melbourne 2020
- MFA, Critical Studies (Creative Writing, Aesthetics and Politics), California Institute of the Arts 2007
- BA, French and German, Pomona College, California 2002
Teaching and Supervision
I am an Associate Fellow of the HEA. As Co-Director of MA Applied Theatre, I convene and teach the full range of modules on the course (see link below)
I would welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in (among other areas): theatre and law; atmosphere; abolition; emotion and affect in applied theatre settings; applied/socially engaged company practice; arts and health.
My research comprises three themes relating to performance practice and social justice:
Theatre, atmosphere and carceral society
This research addresses community performance, public perception and public policy in the criminal justice system. My monograph in progress, ‘Miasmatic Performance: staging and contesting carceral society through atmosphere’, investigates how theatre creates atmospheric interventions on hyper-incarceration and racialised violence in the UK, USA and Australia. I propose that to tackle the reach of carceral conditioning, studies into how carceral power works through atmosphere are required. I theorise the aesthetics and politics of carceral atmospheres through the ancient concept of miasma. I designate a distinct type of theatre-making and theatre-spectating–miasmatic performance–which expands on definitions of miasma as a disease etiology by returning to miasma’s disciplinary heritage as an atmospheric apparatus endowed with the power to police social, civic and theatrical spaces.
Theatre in health education
This research emerges from work on mis-/over-/under-diagnosis of health conditions in the Global South; with Australian theatre company ILBIJERRI and University of Melbourne, I undertook research into performing arts practice addressing healthcare, social and gendered violence in Papua New Guinea, Far North Queensland/Torres Strait Australia, Samoa, Aotearoa, Southern African practices in KwaZulu-Natal, Zandspruit and Malawi, and decolonial health education in Canadian First Nations tribal council bands.
Sensory performance archives
I am currently curating the producing company Fuel’s twenty-year archive, addressing Fuel’s role in developing the practice and position of the independent producer in the expansion of theatre beyond its conventional institutions, audiences and practices over the last twenty years. With Fuel, I am developing several public engagement projects, including a sensory archive using XR technologies.
Publications and research outputs
McPhee, Molly. 2023. The Letter Cloth: Sensory Modes of the Epistolary in Prison Theatre Practice. Humanities, 12, 139. ISSN 2076-0787
McPhee, Molly. 2020. Miasmas in the theatre: Encountering carceral atmospherics in Pests (2014). Ambiances: Environnement sensible, architecture et espace urbain, 6, ISSN 2266-839X
McPhee, Molly. 2018. Miasmatic Performance: Women and resilience in carceral climates. Performance Research, 23(3), pp. 100-111. ISSN 1352-8165
McPhee, Molly. 2020. Theatre as Collective Casework: Clean Break Theatre Company's Charged (2010). In: Caoimhe McAvinchey, ed. Applied Theatre: Women and the Criminal Justice System. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 143-161. ISBN 9781474262552
McPhee, Molly. 2019. 'I don't know why she's crying': Contagion and Criminality in Clean Break's Dream Pill and Little on the inside. In: Fintan Walsh, ed. Theatres of Contagion: Transmitting Early Modern to Contemporary Performance. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 121-135. ISBN 9781350085985
Further profile content
Since 2019, I have been a freelance dramaturg and reader with the Literary Department, Royal Court Theatre.
• Routledge – Development Studies
• Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre
Grants and awards
Twenty Years of Never Doing the Same Thing Twice: Fuel's archive and public engagement programme
Large National Lottery Heritage Fund grant awarded to deliver public engagement and knowledge exchange projects within Fuel's twenty-year archive
Developing Fuel's XR sensory archive
Queen Mary Humanities and Social Sciences Impact Fund awarded funding to deliver a research and development period for Fuel's XR archive
Death tech and COVID-19
Creativity and Wellbeing Research Institute, University of Melbourne, funded Practice as Research project with Rinske Ginsberg
2014: Clore Foundation Emerging Cultural Leader Fellowship
2003: Fulbright Grant, University of Hamburg
I am Public Engagement representative for the Theatre and Performance Department.
I place a strong focus in my teaching, research and professional practice on civic and sector engagement: in 2021/22 I co-founded two interdisciplinary and cross-university research networks (Prisons Projects Network and Arts and Health Network), linking to Civic University Agreement and KE strategic priorities.
Prior to joining Goldsmiths, I served on
• Large Grants Panel, Centre for Public Engagement, QMUL
• Civic Engagement Strategy Working Group, QMUL
• Public Engagement Leadership Forum, QMUL